"Big Four" Highlights


Breaking Down ‘Beta Marriage’

By Jason Godin
Associate Editor, Fathers for Good

A Time magazine feature earlier this year about millennials and marriage opened a torrent of social media activity. Titled “The Beta Marriage: How Millennials Approach ‘I Do,’” the first-person article opens with the author sharing how she “beta-tested” a relationship: living together with her partner before a “botched marriage proposal,” trying to salvage what was left in its wake with couples’ therapy, only to break up in the end. Her experience, she argued, reflected a finding from an online survey conducted by USA Network in May 2014: 43% of millennials (18-34-year olds) support “beta marriage,” an arrangement that “can be formalized or dissolved after a two-year trial period.”

“For a generation reared on technology, overwhelmed by choice, feedback and constant FOMO [fear of missing out],” observed the author, “isn’t testing a marriage, like we test a username, simply … well, logical?

Logical or not, such a statement invites discussion. The fact that this article received so much attention suggests that millennials want to get married. They also seem to want more time in order do it right. One might say millennials even find the trial-run model an answer for avoiding the divorce tragedies made by many of their parents.

But is beta marriage a sure strategy for future relationship success? Fathers for Good breaks down beta marriage with the help of some Catholic experts who regularly deal with these issues.

An Inauthentic Love

Shaina Tanguay-Colucci is a teacher and coach at St. Joseph High School in Trumbull, Connecticut, who holds a master of theological studies in marriage and family from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute. Unmarried, Tanguay-Colucci sees beta marriage as a fruit formed from fears of “great brokenness” and “not being enough, of being disappointed, of being rejected.” Beta marriages, she argues, “pretend to circumvent suffering when in reality they are depriving men and women of the very thing that gives meaning, form and depth to our lives: authentic love manifested in a total gift of self.”

Tanguay-Colucci embraces empathy as a first step toward offering young people a stronger alternative to beta marriage. “We should listen to the stories of the teenagers and young adults who think this way,” she proposes, “acknowledging their pain and meeting them where they are.” Her own parents divorced when she was an adolescent. That experience led her to not “even begin to be open” to marriage until her early 20s.

As for showing millennials their hearts are good but their trendy method of marriage flawed, she says: “The solution is very simple, and it depends only on ourselves. Are we loving God and our neighbor as we should? Are we opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit through frequenting the sacraments and a commitment to daily prayer? Do we place our trust in God or in ourselves? Ultimately, it is a matter of understanding our faith as a relationship with a real person – Jesus Christ – and not merely as an obligation or a moral good.”

A Hurting Grade in the School of Love

Christian and Christine Meert serve as directors of the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Colorado Springs. Parents of five daughters and grandparents of 12 grandchildren, they’ve been invited to give a presentation at the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

For the Meerts, beta marriage fails fundamentally as “a school of love.” “If we need to test marriage,” they argue, “we can have doubts on the depth and truthfulness of our love.” But because love is a decision involving the will, much more than fleeting or even strong feelings, marriage requires a love that wants “the good of another before your own good, whatever sacrifice it may require,” they insist. “We get married because we love each other, sure, but mainly we get married to love each other.”

The Meerts also point out a practical problem with beta marriage: what happens when the “test” period doesn’t show a couple capable of overcoming the inevitable “events, traumas, bumps on the road that will throw off our good testing strategies”? Couples never break up unaffected. “Breaking up, whether married or not, will hurt, will wound, will damage the persons,” the Meerts observe.

A Limit on Responsible Growth

Rebecca Royse is the coordinator of marriage and family life for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia. Married for 10 years, she identifies her determination to succeed in marriage with her own parents’ divorce when she was 8 years old. “I have lived through what many would call a ‘good divorce’ and still see the damage and pain that is caused by it.”

Royse argues that beta marriages create an ever-present, threatening restraint on “the freedom to grow together through difficult times.” She sees it as not answering important questions involved in any successful marriage. By putting off basic responsibilities for “figuring out marriage” – finances and raising children, for example – beta marriage only avoids critical commitments like forgiveness as well as expecting and accepting together the “difficulties, hurts and struggles” that are part of any loving relationship.

Millennials are known to look first to online user reviews before making important investments. Few investments in life are more vital than marriage, and young people know that. What they now need to know is that most reviews show that the beta marriage model breaks down. It’s only logical to make a better investment in a form of marriage that deserves the name.